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Wilt vs. "the Best":

Career Numbers

Wilt Chamberlain 30.1 22.9 4.4 .0.54 .0.511
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 24.6 11.2 3.6 0.56 0.721
Bill Russell 15.1 22.5 4.3 0.44 0.561
Michael Jordan 30.1 6.2 5.3 0.497 0.835
Magic Johnson 19.5 7.2 11.2 0.52 0.848
Oscar Robertson 25.7 7.5 9.5 0.49 0.838
Larry Bird 24.3 10.0 6.3 0.50 0.886


Career Year




Wilt Chamberlain

1967 24.1 24.2 7.8 0.683 0.441
  1962 50.4 25.7 2.4 0.506 0.613

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

1972 34.8 16.6 4.6 0.574 0.689

Bill Russell

1962 18.9 23.6 4.5 0.457 0.595
Michael Jordan 1989 32.5 8.0 8.0 0.538 0.850
  1987 37.1 5.2 4.6 0.482 0.857
Magic Johnson 1987 23.9 6.3 12.2 0.522 0.848
  1982 18.6 9.6 9.5 0.537 0.760
Oscar Robertson 1962 30.8 12.5 11.4 0.478 0.803
Larry Bird 1988 29.9 9.3 6.1 0.527 0.916


Before I analyze, I would like to point out a reference I will commonly make:

During Wilt's first 7 years, his job was primarily as a scorer and rebounder.  In 1962, his coach, Frank McGuire, asked him in the pre-season to score 50 PPG, because he said that was the only way they could beat the Celtics:  Russell couldn't stop Wilt, but Russell's teammates were vastly superior to Wilt's (the 1962 Celtics featured 7 hall of famers on the roster).

During Wilt's last 7 years, his role changed.  Coach Alex Hannum asked Wilt to score less, pass off more take higher percentage shot.  The reason why was because the Sixers had talent to match the Celtics'.  Wilt told Hannum that he would do anything to win a title, and he responded with his career year shown above, which, in my opinion, is the single finest season in NBA history.

Now, analyzing player by player:
Wilt vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  Wilt simply was a more dominant player.  He could pour on the offense to higher degrees than Kareem.  Wilt is the greatest rebounder in history, and Kareem was a weak rebounder for his size.  Wilt was a better passer, and I believe, a better defender.  When Wilt was in his final 2 years, which corresponded with Kareem's 3rd and 4th year, Wilt was still making the first team all-defense over Kareem.  None of this is a bag on Kareem, because I do believe Kareem is one of the 3 greatest centers in history, but he simply was no Wilt.

        Some will try to bring up rings.  This is a silly argument, since rings are a team achievement, but still, consider that during Kareem's first 10 years, he won 1 ring, and made the finals 3 times.  When Wilt did this, fools call it "choking", but Kareem "didn't have the teammates."   Frankly, if Kareem didn't have one of the 2 greatest point guards in history (Oscar Robertson or Magic Johnson), then his teams did extremely poorly.  In 1975 and 1976, Kareem led them to losing records.  In 1977, they were higher-seeded and got swept by Bill Walton's Traiblazers.  In 1978, they were finished 4th place in the 5 team Pacific Division.  In 1979, they finished 3rd in the 6th team Pacific Division.   Did he have teammates?  Well, in 1979, he had Norm Nixon, Adrian Dantley, and Jamaal Wilkes.  Is that talent?  So in the 5 seasons without Magic and Oscar, they won only 1 division title, and never won a game past the conference semi-finals.   In 1980, Magic Johnson joined the Lakers, and they started winning titles.   When Kareem retired in 1989, the Lakers replaced him with Vlade Divac and won 6 MORE games.  Food for thought.

        So did Kareem win titles?  No.  The Lakers (and Bucks) won titles.  One man teams do not win titles.

        Kareem did play longer, but does this make Robert Parish better than Kareem?  No.  Also, Kareem played less minutes than Wilt.  Who couldn't play more games when they are pacing themselves?  Kareem played 20 seasons to Wilt's 14.  However, if you take Wilt's min/game and turn them into the number of games Kareem played, Wilt played the equivalent of 18 seasons!   And consider, in Wilt's final season, he set a record for field goal percentage (72.7%), led the league in rebounds, and was first team all-defense (over Kareem).   Wilt retired while he was still a star in the league.  When Kareem retired, he wasn't even beating out backup Mychal Thompson in minutes.  Kareem was a starter by title-only.  He also hacked off Lakers' GM Jerry West by coming to work out of shape, and giving what was considered a half-hearted effort.  You can read about this in Kareem's book Kareem.  You can also read Kareem try to justify his poor work habit.

        So once you slice through the superficial rhetoric, it comes down to who was the most dominant player and the answer was Wilt.   He could fill any role on a team.  Kareem could not.  If you needed someone to focus on defense and clean the glass, Kareem couldn't do it.


Wilt vs. Oscar Robertson:  Oscar supporters will say "Oscar averaged a triple double for an entire year and he averaged one over a 5 year span!"  True, but listen to what Oscar says, "The triple-double is blown out of proportion.  No one noticed it when I played.  Today, they are so cheap...Guys worry about getting one more rebound or assist for the triple-double--it's ridiculous.  What matters is a guy who plays the total game.  He's not after stats, but because that's how you should play the game, period."  (Tall Tales, by Terry Pluto, page 201)  I couldn't agree more!  Jason Kidd gets a lot of triple-doubles, but isn't a complete player, because he's such a poor shooter.  Oscar and Wilt were both complete players and had blocks been kept, there is no telling how many triple doubles and quadruple-doubles Wilt would have had in 1968 (24.3 ppg, 23.8 RPG, 8.6 APG) or in 1967 (shown above).  He probably would have had far more quadruple-doubles than Oscar and everybody else! 

Oscar is one of the greatest rebounding guards in history and Wilt is one of the greatest passing centers in history.  The way in which Oscar controlled the tempo of the game, and his superior free throw shooting, I would have to say that offensively, he is Wilt's equal, but Wilt will win this matchup because of defense:  Oscar was a marginal, but not outstanding defender, where Wilt was a defensive giant, and got this recognition later in his career when his scoring decreased and people took note of his dominating defense.  Personally, I think Oscar comes the closest to comparing to Wilt, but even he comes up short.


Wilt vs. Bill Russell:  Wilt.  No iffs ands or butts.  Russell's offensive game was very limited.  According to Russell, himself, Wilt could do Russell's role better than Russell, "Wilt is playing better than I used to -- passing off, coming out to set up screens, picking up guys outside, and sacrificing himself for team play."  (Great Moments in Pro Basketball, by Sam Goldaper, p.24)  Russell said this while he was player-coach of the Celtics.  Russell could not fulfill as many roles as Wilt, especially if he had to be first option on offense.  While some of Russell's teammates try to belittle Wilt by saying if Wilt were a Celtic, they would have won a few titles, but not as many, I have yet to see anybody step forward and say that Russell could have led the Warriors to the title.

        For those who say rings are the thing and want to judge a player based on what 12 players do, I ask: is Dennis Rodman better than Karl Malone?  Sam Jones better than Michael Jordan?  Luc Longley better than Patrick Ewing?  Magic Johnson better than Larry Bird (that always makes Celtic fans cringe!)?


Wilt vs. Magic Johnson:  I'll take Oscar Robertson over Magic, simply because he can do more things, and I already have Wilt ahead of Oscar.  Both are excellent at running teams, but Oscar never had the luxury of playing on teams as deep in talent as the 1980s Lakers.  Wilt could score, rebound, and defend better than Magic.  Magic could throw more assists, but Wilt led the league in assists, and Magic never came close to leading the league in rebounds.  Wilt was also a superior defender.

For those who try to say that rings are things (see Russell), I ask: how many championships did Magic win without a hall of fame center?  Was Jordan's Bulls clearly better than Magic's Lakers in 1991, or do you think the injuries to James Worthy and Byron Scott contributed?  Do you believe that Mark Aguirre was better than James Worthy in 1989, since his team won the championship?  And what about "Tragic Magic" in the 1984 finals?


Wilt vs. Larry Bird:  Once again, Wilt reigns over Bird because Wilt was simply more dominating.  Larry Bird wasn't nearly the defender that Wilt was.  While Larry was crafty on defense, he didn't have the ability to dominate a game on the defensive end.  Unless they are going to have a free-throw contest, Wilt is going to dominate nearly every category, even passing, as Bird never led the league in assists.


Wilt vs. Michael Jordan: Once more, Wilt is simply more dominating.  While Jordan fans are quick to point out Wilt's flaw (free throws), I can equally point out that Jordan was not that great of a 3 point shooter, unless the line is moved in (the league's attempt to help inferior players score more). 

Jordan averaged 1 asst/game more than Wilt during his career, and this is while he has been enjoying the luxury of looser rules governing assists.  Had the rulebook been the same back then as it now, governing assists, this number would be even. 

Jordan's took more shots than Wilt, yet both averaged 30.1 ppg during their careers.  As far as who was the better scorer, there is no question:  During Wilt's first 7 years, he scored like no man in history.  Jordan never had a 70+ point game.  Wilt had 4. Jordan never averaged 38+ ppg for a season.  Wilt did it 3 times.  I've seen Jordan make ridiculous claims that Wilt was another Shaq, yet Jordan flaunts his ignorance.  Wilt came into the league with a jump shot and used the finger-roll and fade-away as go-to moves, whereas Shaq has never developed these shots and spent years with a very raw offensive game made up of dunks.  Wilt was stronger than Shaq, a better leaper, and far more schooled in the fundamentals.  Furthermore, Cavs GM Wayne Embry disagrees with Jordan.  He says Wilt would have no problems against today's defenses.  Nearly every rules change has been made to help the defense.  Against these rules, Wilt would clearly dominate.

Jordan was also much more selfish.  When Wilt's coaches asked him to score, he did.  When they asked him to sacrificed his scoring titles, he did.  Jordan fought any attempt to cut back his shot attempts.  Read about Jordan's spats with Phil Jackson.  Read about how he put down Tex Winter and the triangle!  Even his own teammate Horace Grant said that Jordan cared more about his points than the team.  If Wilt had that selfish attitude, there is no telling how many more points he would have.  Also, if you take Wilt's scoring through the same number of career games, his scoring average is higher. 

Wilt is a vastly superior rebounder, and while Jordan fans will point out that "Wilt should have more, since he is a center", I counter that Jordan should have a lot more assists, since he is a guard, but the numbers do not support him.  Wilt is one of the greatest passers ever at center, but Jordan isn't as dominating at his position with respect to rebounds (Oscar and Magic, for instance, are both better rebounders).  And while Jordan does have more 1st team all defensive selections, keep in mind that #1) the team wasn't created until Wilt's 10th year in the league and #2) Only one center is selected vs. 2 guards.  If Jordan were the greatest defensive guard ever, there would be a point, but as long as Walt Frazier is remembered, Jordan could never be better than #2. 

Jordan has also received the benefit of rules changes that have been implemented to help offensive players, such as well-defined rules concerning zones, rules against hand checking, and flagrant fouls.  He's been spoiled by the luxuries given to the modern player, such as chartered planes, first class hotels, superior athletic shoes, and modern sports medicine (and he still hasn't approached Wilt's minutes per game!).  Jordan has benefited from the joke that has become NBA officiating, in which superstars receive preferential treatment, and Jordan has probably received more than any player in history.   The steps and the fouls he gets away with are ridiculous! 

Consider also that Jordan benefited from the dilution of talent in the 1990s that came from expansion, giving him inferior talent to play against, compared to the 1980s.  It is no coincidence that Jordan's teammate, Dennis Rodman, said that the 1996 Bulls could not have won 70 games playing against 1980s teams.  While Jordan has many accomplishments, they cannot compare to Wilt's, and while the press and the Jordan radicals try to rationalize Wilt's numbers, as you can see, it's equally easy to rationalize Jordan's, and when it comes down to it, Wilt is still the most dominating player in history, and Jordan has never came close to threatening Wilt's 100 point game or 50.4 PPG average, and scoring is supposed to be Jordan's specialty, let alone Wilt's 8.6 APG in a season, or his rebounding numbers, or his 72.7% field goal percentage.

Finally, consider each player's ability to carry a team.  Wilt came into the league and carried a bad team to immediate contention.  He took the 1962 Warriors, not a great team, to the 7th game of the conference finals, where they lost by 2 points on a controversial call, to the champion Celtics.  Jordan, on the other hand, came into the league and joined a losing team and after 3 years, they were STILL a losing team.  He was 1-9 in the playoffs and posted 3 consecutive losing seasons.  The truth is, Jordan played 5 seasons without Scottie Pippen and in each of those 5 seasons, he could not win more games than he lost, and in the final 2 years, he failed to get Washington to the playoffs.  Yes, he was older than Wilt when Wilt retired, but Wilt played MANY more minutes, because Jordan retired 3 times.  The fact is, without great teammates, Jordan was a loser.  Wilt, on the other hand, could carry a poor team much farther than Jordan, showing just how much more dominant he was.

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